By Linda Viertel-
Farmers’ markets are in full swing, and now that we can shop in person to enjoy the experience of contact with our local growers and purveyors, it’s the beginning of the best time to start cooking with fresh produce brought to us by the folks who grew their own glorious “whole foods.” There’s nothing like talking to farmers, cooks, artisanal cheese-makers, bread bakers and condiment creators who will help you decide what produce and products are at their early summer best. Taste matters, whether you are a home cook or a chef, so it’s worth it to take time this summer and visit your local farmers market and fill your fridge with locally grown fruits and vegetables at their seasonal peak.
Everyone seems to miss bright tasting tomatoes and basil after enduring the lackluster products found in markets and shipped from far away over the winter. So, here’s a super easy pasta dish that takes little time, looks like summer, and is sure to delight.
Cherry Tomato and Basil Pasta
(from La Tavernetta, a tiny trattoria in Naples)
2 or 3 pints of ripe cherry tomatoes
One full bunch of basil leaves (thoroughly washed)
4 tablespoons butter
One tablespoon virgin olive oil
One pound pasta (of your choice)
Parmigiano Reggiano – for grating (imported)
High-quality virgin oil for the table
Salt and pepper to taste
Red Pepper flakes (for the table)
Heat a large pot of water with a dash of salt and a splash of olive oil for the pasta. When it boils, throw in the pasta and cook until al dente (usually a few minutes before the directions on the package). Keep tasting the pasta as it ends cooking time to make sure it is slightly chewy before you pour it into a colander. It will cook slightly as it sits in the colander.
Half-way through your pasta preparation, melt butter in large saute pan along with the tablespoon of olive oil. Place all the cherry tomatoes into the pan once the butter has melted and cook on medium heat until the tomatoes begin to split. Stir as they cook. Keep them whole (don’t let them turn into a sauce), and when they have become slightly soft, but before they dissolve, throw in the whole bunch of basil leaves. Stir until basil has softened, add salt and pepper to taste.
Place the drained pasta in a large serving bowl or individual serving bowls and top with the cherry tomato/basil mixture. Grate plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano on top and serve. Make sure salt, pepper and red pepper flakes are on the table so diners can adjust seasoning according to their tastes. I also place a big hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano on the table with a hand grater for those who like more cheese on their pasta, plus a bottle of high quality virgin olive oil to pour on each individual serving as needed. Summer has never tasted so good.
A Few Extra Cooking Tips to Supplement Your Culinary Expertise:
- Aioli, that divine garlic/mayonnaise dip, is an easy accompaniment for fresh raw carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, zucchini and even par-boiled new potatoes. Just mash a few chopped garlic cloves with a teaspoon of salt until it becomes a paste (you can do this with a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife on a cutting board). Mix garlic paste with a cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise and a tablespoon of lemon, or to taste. For added rich color and an unusual flavor, soak a few strands of saffron in the tablespoon of lemon overnight and add to the aioli just before serving.
- An easy way to roast whole medium-sized or smaller new, fingerling or Charlotte potatoes is to skewer them on metal skewers and place them directly on an oven shelf if you are roasting other meats or fish. They roast best at around 425 or 450 degrees for about 20 minutes to a half hour, depending on size. Test to see when they are done. This method allows them to cook from the inside and keep a crunchy skin, but you’ll need to decide when to place them in the oven depending upon what else you are cooking. Fish will take a shorter time then a whole chicken or a roast!
- When tossing a large amount of salad with dressing, just pour half the salad dressing on and only toss the top half of the salad with the dressing, then pour the remaining dressing on the salad and dig down to the bottom to bring up the bottom half of the salad and toss thoroughly. This allows the dressing to cover all the leaves. Throw some chopped fresh tarragon leaves on top before the second toss for added flavor.
- The Magical Broth Bag — Keep a plastic bag in the freezer. When you peel onions or shallots, cut the bottom and tops of a bunch of celery or carrots, have some leftover chicken bones or anything else that might be appealing in a stock, simply throw it in the bag and toss the bag back in the freezer. When you are making a dish that requires broth, you can empty a box of store-bought broth into a pot, and empty the contents of the broth bag into it. Simmer for a half hour or so, then strain. The broth will be far richer and tastier than if you had used it straight from the box. The broth bag has a way of refilling itself as you go from one meal prep to the next. And you’re actually using all those vegetable scraps before composting or, heaven forbid, instead of merely discarding them.
- Local Farmers’ Markets:
• TaSH (Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market)
Patriots Park, Route 9, Tarrytown
Hours: Saturdays 8:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m.
•Irvington Farmers Market
101 Main Street
Hours: Sundays 9:00-1:30